GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology


Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Katherine Luzuriaga, M.D.


HIV-1, Mucous Membrane, Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical, AIDS Vaccines, Viral Vaccines


In 2008 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to the co-discoverers of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1), the causative agent of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This award acknowledged the enormous worldwide impact of the HIV-1/AIDS pandemic and the importance of research aimed at halting its spread. Since the syndrome was first recognized, 25 million people have succumbed to AIDS and over 33 million are currently infected with HIV-1 ( The most effective strategy for ending the pandemic is the creation of a prophylactic vaccine. Yet, to date, all efforts at HIV-1 vaccine design have met with very limited success. The consistent failures of vaccine candidates stem in large part from the unprecedented diversity of HIV-1.

Among the novel theories of vaccine design put forward to address this diversity is the targeted vaccine approach. This proposal is based on the finding that mucosal transmission of HIV-1, the most prevalent form, occurs across a selective bottleneck such that typically only a single (or a few) variants of the viral swarm present in a donor are passed to the recipient. While the mechanisms controlling the selection are largely unknown, the targeted vaccine approach postulates that once they are identified, we can utilize this understanding to design vaccines specifically targeted to the characteristics shared by the rare, mucosally transmissible HIV-1 variants.

The studies described in this work were conducted to improve our understanding of the factors influencing viral variant selection during mother-to-child-transmission of HIV-1, a route of mucosal transmission which has globally become the leading cause of child infection. A unique panel was generated, consisting of nearly 300 HIV-1 envelope genes cloned from infected mother-infant pairs. Extensive characterization of the genotypes, phenotypes and phylogeny of these clones was then done to identify attributes differentiating early infant from maternal variants. Low genetic diversity of HIV-1 envelope variants was detected in early infant samples, suggesting a bottleneck and active selection of variants for transmission. Transmitted variants did not differ from non-transmitted variants in CD4 and CCR5 use. Infant isolates replicated poorly in macrophages; a cell subtype hypothesized to be important in the establishment of infection. The sensitivity of infant envelope variants to neutralization by a panel of monoclonal antibodies, heterologous and autologous plasmas and HIV-1 entry inhibitors varied. Most intriguingly, envelopes cloned from infants infected during delivery exhibited a faster entry phenotype than maternal isolates. Together, these findings provide further insight into viral variant selection during mother-to-child transmission. Identification of properties shared by mucosally transmitted viral variants may allow them to be selectively targeted, resulting in improved methods for preventing HIV-1 transmission.



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